Action Required On Childhood Obesity

Obesity Food

The Health Select Committee (made up of Members of Parliament from all political parties) has called on the British Government to take new action to stem the rise in childhood obesity. Obesity rates are high in many areas, especially Scotland. In 2014, for example, 65 percent of Scottish adults aged 16 and over were overweight, including 28 percent who were obese.

Obesity costs the National Health Service an estimated £1.5 billion per year and brings with it various ill-health issues for those who are overweight, including the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Preventing the next generation from becoming excessively overweight is, according to the Committee, a sensible move: resources need to be targeted on health promotion.

The Committee has issued a report it hopes will influence Government policy. The report highlights nine areas for improvement. They are:

  • New controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drink;
  • Tougher controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink;
  • A new food reformulation program, aimed at reducing sugar in food and drink;
  • A controversial sugary drinks tax on soft drinks;
  • Labeling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons;
  • Improved education and information about diet;
  • Universal school food standard;s
  • Greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity;
  • Early intervention by health and social services to ‘help’ families of children affected by obesity.

Not all of these measures will become law and some are likely to be more accepted than others and some are likely to be more effective than others. Whether effective equals accepted remains to be seen.

The most hotly contested issue is over taxing soft drinks. The Health Minister for Wales – Mark Drakeford – is pushing this issue. He also wants restrictions on advertising. In a letter to the U.K. government, he writes:

“Adverts marketing soft drinks, chocolate, other confectionery, and sugary cereals are all making significant contributions to children consuming free sugar.”

The Economist takes a more nuanced view on the issue and presents findings as to where a tax on sugary drinks has worked (as in Mexico) and where it has not.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.